Because I have a husband who saves everything, I mean everything, on his hard drive, he recently found some of my writing I hadn’t seen in years. This one is about the old East Denver YMCA in the Clayton neighborhood. We were members there for ten years or so, starting in the mid-1980s. Wellington Webb was Denver’s mayor, Michael Jackson was alive and well, and apparently there was a Babe Ruth movie. The Y left the building in the early 2000s and it sat empty for a decade. If you have facts or memories about that wonderful place, please post them in the comments: I found little information online.
When Phil and I get to the gym, Roger and Steve are usually already there and stay after we leave. They are younger and have more stamina than we do. Steve’s taller, more slender of build, more caramel of color. Roger is darker, shorter, and strikingly handsome. I have seen young women go into a kind of trance when they look at him. Roger and Steve are recent college graduates, come to the gym from work in their suits and ties.
We just missed the excitement. One of the weights on the universal machine was stuck, Steve and some other guys trying to pry it loose, and 180 pounds crashed down on Steve’s fingers. He’s nursing them as we come in, the swelling already apparent.
Rog is having a great time with this event. “The audience saw it coming, saw the weights begin to move. Get your hands out! Get ’em out! But no good. Boom!”
The other guy got slammed too. He went home to put his fingers on ice. We work out for a while. Two others start messing with the machine, trying to see what’s hanging it up.
“Watch out, this sucker’s two for two,” Rog advises, then calls over his shoulder: “Hey, Steve, come give us a hand.”
Signing in at the weight room, I noticed Babe Ruth has been here every day this week, but Rog, who is always here, has not. “Rog,” I say, “did you notice Babe Ruth’s been working out here?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Isn’t that something? The movie comes out and all of a sudden, Babe Ruth sightings.” He shakes his head, amazed, and goes back to lifting.
Warren is another story. He’s a teacher and teachers are all of a type, much like New York taxi drivers. We arrive for our Saturday morning workout and Warren looks at his watch. “A little late today, aren’t we?” We keep thinking he’ll mark us tardy and send us to the office. “No, no, no, you’re doing that wrong. Keep your back straight, see?” Warren is six-five, corrects everyone and gets away with it.
Roger contemplates a kid using the chin up bar as a jungle gym, snaking his skinny body all over it. “When you’re young, you got stomach muscles for nothing and don’t even know it.” We all look down to the place where, in theory, we have stomach muscles. Roger sighs. We all sigh. Maybe another set of crunches.
The East Denver Y’s in a mostly black neighborhood, has a black board of directors and staff. Sometimes Mayor Webb and his entourage pass the weight room on their way to play basketball in the gym. These days there’s a mix of black and white, male and female adults in the weight room. A white guy spots a black guy. A black guy shows a white guy how to do a particular curl. The talk is easy, running through current affairs and sports to the best way to work your lats or the last movie someone saw. If an alien dropped into this gym, he’d have no idea there were race problems in America. Or, if he stayed long enough, he’d know there were some, but not in the weight room.
Roger works at the Tech Center, drives a late-model Beemer with tinted windows. Reason enough to stop him, those suburban cops think. I guess that’s what they think. Roger can’t figure out any other reason why he’s been pulled over for an I.D. check, no ticket issued, three times in the last two years. “Do I look like a drug dealer?” Roger demands, with upturned hands.
Steve examines him critically. “You look like your calves could use some work, that’s what you look like.” Roger’s attention shifts instantly. As all the regulars know, he worries a lot about his lower legs, which he thinks are too skinny.
Glenn is establishing the worth of Michael Jackson’s latest record by telling us how many have been sold.
“Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good,” Phil observes.
“That’s a grown-up statement,” Roger comments.
“Still, he’s kind of a hero,” Glenn says.
“Why?” Phil demands. “I think he’s always wanted to be a middle class white girl.”
“What?!” Glenn reels under the blow, drops the bar back in its rests.
“Phil’s got a point, man. Look at how he’s changed, that face job–” Steve adds.
“Yeah, and you ever notice how he’s lighter now than he was a few years ago?”
“But, but that’s all for show biz and stuff,” Glenn sputters.
“Probably the next thing you’ll hear,” Roger winds up, going for the gut, “he’ll have a sex change.”
Glenn looks to be in a state of shock. “Sex change,” he mutters, staring into space.
I believe we just did to Glenn what finding out there’s no Santa does to kids. But it can’t all be peaches and cream at the Y.